Telling Stories - Sequencing Your Ideas

Describing People
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Telling stories is common in any language. Think of all the situations in which you can tell a story:

  • Talking about your past to a friend
  • Giving details about something that happened during a job interview
  • Relating information about your family to your children
  • Telling colleagues about what happened on a business trip

In each of these situations - and many others - you provide information about something that happened in the past.

In order to help your audience understand, you need to link these ideas together. One of the most important ways to link ideas is to sequence them. Read this example paragraph to get the gist:

A Strange Encounter

A strange thing happened to me the other day. To start off with, I was really tired because I had been working all day. I got home, sat down and turned on the TV to relax and watch the news. Initially, I had problems finding a good channel. Suddenly, the TV program I was watching changed and a strange face appeared. Immediately, I focused on the TV to see what was happening. Next, a strange looking bird like creature appeared on the screen. It stated that it was from the planet Zog and had a message for humanity! As soon as I heard this was an alien, I called my wife into the room. Unexpectedly, the alien then appeared in my living room! I couldn't believe what was happening. While it was introducing itself, my wife walked into the room.

As soon as she saw the alien, she fainted. I didn't know what to do! Then, the alien told me not to worry because the message was only for me. I listened while it told me an incredible story about an upcoming invasion of the Earth. Finally, it disappeared! I still don't know what happened, but I can tell you it was a very strange encounter...

Learn More about Sequencing

Sequencing refers to the order in which events happened. These are some of the most common ways to sequence in writing or speaking:

Beginning your Story

Make the beginning of your story with these expressions. Make sure to use a comma after the introductory phrase.

First of all,
To start off with,

Firstly, I began my education in London.
First of all, I opened the cupboard.
To start off with, we decided our destination was New York.
Initially, I thought it was a bad idea, ...

Continuing the Story

You can continue the story with this expressions, or use a time clause beginning with 'as soon as', or 'after', etc. When using a time clause, use the past simple after the time expression. 

After that,
As soon as / When + full clause,
... but then

Then, I started to get worried.
After that, we knew that there would be no problem!
Next, we decided on our strategy.
As soon as we arrived, we unpacked our bags.
We were sure everything was ready, but then we discovered some unexpected problems.
Immediately, I telephoned my friend Tom.

Interruptions  and Adding New Elements to the Story

You can use the following expressions to add suspense to your story.


Suddenly, a child burst into the room with a note for Ms. Smith.
Unexpectedly, the people in the room didn't agree with the mayor.

Speaking about Events Occurring at the Same Time

Remember that using these forms require an independent clause to complete your sentence.

While / As + full clause
During + noun (noun clause)

While we were getting ready for the trip, Jennifer was making the reservations at the travel agent's.
During the meeting, Jack came over and asked me a few questions.

Ending the Story

Mark the end of your story with these introductory phrases.

In the end,

Finally, I flew to London for my meeting with Jack.
In the end, he decided to postpone the project.
Eventually, we became tired and returned home.
Lastly, we felt we had had enough and went home.

When you tell stories you will also need to give reasons for actions. Here is some help with linking your ideas, and providing reasons for your actions.